International Poets

Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

“Turning Myself Loose with the Language”: Introducing Guest Poetry Editor Pit Pinegar

It is with joy that I introduce the Guest Poetry Editor for this splendid international issue: award-winning poet Pit Pinegar. When I was directing the poetry center at Bucknell University, Pinegar was among the distinguished alumnae I invited to campus, in Pinegar’s case, as a creativity consultant. She also writes hybrid poetry, prose poems, short fiction and memoir. She is curious and exploratory by nature, describing her writing process as “turning myself loose with the language to see what happens,… to explore the notion of organic order.”

 

Beginning in 2000, her poetic concerns became more social, weaving into the personal a political vision. To give a brief illustration, the poem “PeaceWork” shifts pointedly between differing perspectives and modes. We move from the speaker, safe in the States one spring (“the yard’s a riot/ of daffodils, celadon fringe/ on maples, tulips firing up/ the gardens”), to her daughter in Jerusalem:

with her need to be where peace
is a matter of life and death,
is an occasional absence of bloodshed,
of war, where she’s so all-fired sure
she can be of use.

 
The poem strikes a balance between the flowering of season at home and war overseas, enabling the speaker to express both concern and respect for the daughter who is walking an actual thin line—“Arab music on her left,/ Hebrew on her right”—between war and peace. To my mind, Pinegar’s poetry sings with a telling touch, as powerful in its lyric vision as in its conceptual framework.
 
Author of four collections of poetry and stories, she is a recipient of the Governor’s Distinguished Advocate of the Arts Award (CT). Nominated many times for a Pushcart, her work has appeared in The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival’s 20th Anniversary Anthology (Wesleyan UP), and Visions, Voices and Verses, ekphrastic poetry from the collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art (Exiles Press). Pinegar has received a grant from the Surdna Foundation for a residency at Footpaths to Creativity in the Azores, and a residency fellowship from the Helene V. Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM. In the early 1980s, she lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with her then-husband and children. She writes of those years,
 

I appreciate what living outside the U.S. brought to me as a woman and a writer. I also watched my three children—12, 11, and almost 3 when we arrived—become aware, not only of a world not shaped by the culture familiar to them, but also aware of the legitimacy and value of the many cultures within their home culture. I think it’s safe to say that anyone living outside her own culture for a significant period of time, sees her own more clearly. A poet takes in a new landscape with heightened senses.

 
Pinegar’s two poems, included in this feature, exemplify the powers of observation such “heightened senses” produce: the imagery lush, sensuous; the tone understated, but wise in the knowledge, as “Don’t Hold Your Breath” avers, that “This is all you have. / This moment.”

 

 

 

 

Introduction to International Poetry

It strikes me that poets are poets because they pay attention to details and to significance, because they hold, simultaneously, an awareness of the self and of the world around them—its past, present, future, and its transitions. More than that, poets allow themselves to be touched, moved, and changed by what their senses and psyches and the practice of writing poetry reveal to them. Some notice what happens to be around them; others seek new ground. Some are where they are—both geographically and literarily—by birth, by harsh or fortuitous or unexpected circumstances, by chance or by choice.

 

As guest editor for this issue of Persimmon Tree’s International Poetry, I sat down to the task as I might at a three-star Michelin restaurant, sending word to the chef: Send out whatever you like. Surprise me! Reading this year’s submissions was a rich, varied, sometimes startling experience. Individual poems were, at their cores, finely crafted. They were emotional, historical, social, political—more than occasionally, all four. The winning poems crossed cultures (Poe in Athens; a grieving sister in Halifax dreaming of the solace of whole-family grieving in Morocco). They piqued my curiosity (you bet, I now know who Otto Dix was, and his painting, Old Lovers, will haunt me for a long time). These poems coursed through me: I could smell fear and smoke and sweat; I flinched at gunfire; loneliness and vulnerability, resolve and hard-won triumph resonated to the marrow of my bones.

I thank all poets who submitted work for consideration in this issue; I am richer for the experience of spending time with your poems. And it is with great pleasure that I present the poems I’ve chosen to share with you.
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

Tree Time

Translated by Anna Reckin
 
 
The great tree falls, and the act of its felling is at one and the same time
an act of creation: seeds, leaves, a house, the boat
 
which one morning glides out over the shallows. A sigh goes through the
world when the tree tumbles down, combined with a crack like the breaking
 
of bones when it hits the ground. And just then, when this reserved,
unyielding being snaps, one door slams shut and another is pushed open, stands
 
ajar to the future. In that narrow gap, a fire flickers,
visible from a long way off:  a beacon in the dark night of time.
 
We’re met by the wind that blows through the empty space where the
tree stood; we focus our gaze and we can make out the absent 
 
boughs against the grey horizon. It was in December that the tree
went, shorn of its branches and pulled over the snowy ground; by the next
 
solstice, there was nothing left, and new roofs caught the light of the full moon. In
spring, we picked our way between the rustling sounds that had once filled the 
 
forest. As we walked over melting snow, we waded through 
a groundswell of trees’ cries and echoes of knocking hammers.
 
The way ahead goes through a clearing. Here our voiceless fellow-beings,
those who are slow, doubly mute, once spoke, and continue to
 
broadcast, on the frequencies of dreams, sound-waves from shadow-woods,
the lowest notes from the primeval forests that covered the continent.

 

 

 

 

Checkpoint

(Liberian Civil War)
 
The line is tortoise slow.
Dust, smelling of pungent death,
is churned up by people in cars,
and on foot, fleeing,
after passing inspection, 
after surviving interrogation.
 
Death lines the roadsides.
The rankness of piss
and fetid decay of tossed bodies, 
mostly men, charge your nose.
 
You wait your turn, 
hear and feel fear rattling in your chest,
running through your body
like a rushing river.
 
Fate waits in black and white
—a split-second decision
made by a soldier-boy
high on weed and power.
His verdict could be based
on a bad experience—an adult who once 
whipped his back raw red. 
Or, he might not like your face.
 
Or, you might be spared, 
if you remind him of the father
he lost to the war,
the memory, painting his life gray, 
clouding his once bright moon.
 
The green grass you ate this morning,
because there was no food,
is finding its way back down your gut.
You can hear your belly squelching,
settling back down 
into the trenches of your bowel.
 
You speed away, dash away, 
escaping the bang, bang, bang
of what could have been 
your last view of the yellow sun,
brown dust rising against the light blue sky.
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

Of Epiphanies

 
On a sixth of Janus’ two-faced winter- 
Gaze days, not called January, not then,
 
Didn’t soul-followers trace 
A shining star from not yet Tehran, then, 
 
And didn’t they follow unknowing to Bethlehem’s 
Sunset cradle, then, — didn’t they kneel to that 
 
Miniature body they wanted so  
To believe in — infant-fisted, then,  
 
Didn’t they give thanks, didn’t they gift, and 
Didn’t the later Joyce name epiphany “the sudden   
 
Revelation of the whatness of a thing,”  
Moment when “the soul of the commonest object  
—Seems to us radiant,”  
 
Wasn’t Lebanon’s Gibran born on such a winter  
Morning also, born to word-whisper to his prophet 
One day, but not yet, 
 
— How two mighty trees grow, each, not in 
Each other’s shadow — each, reaching — 
 
Then when I fell, when I fall, 
Is there a sharp-toothed stone in the sand 
 
That might radiate to a star to follow? 
Teach me when something has not happened yet,  
 
To know, all winter after winter, the meaning of 
Epiphany? To bear cold that will fall, 
Art, from a revealing sun?
 
To kneel beside a field of jonquils, its abundance of 
Yellows fronting the house I always lived in, my ghost 
At its open shade —

 

 

 

 

Psyche’s Schism

for Gina Politis
 

A rose marble heart at the center of stones 
she’s collected on the beach—
all white in a simple columnar vase,
all green in another, all rust piled 
in a ceramic bowl the color of rust
an ordered altar to her husband and son—
 
a counter to suicide, genetics, and contagion. 
Memory candles swirl shadows and a votive
flickering on the wall is the Greek key 
unspooling waves, waves morphing 
into a sorrow skull, a bone archway 
to the past and forgiveness.
 
“When his visionary poetry turned 
violent, he left me alone with the baby 
to protect us. He didn’t divide his love. 
My son’s sweet marriage and drugs 
that didn’t exist in his father’s day 
gave me a rainbow of hope. 
 
But my son, my son got lost, entered the hollow
that lightning split in the family tree. 
Their honeymoon barely over, he swallowed 
the sleep aids they call hypnotics. 
I say there’s a schism, a door open 
in the psyche, and some strange 
 
god beckons from the threshold, murmuring, 
“hypno, hypno” (sleep, sleep) and they depart—
my somnambulists—toward the big nothing.”

 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

Elderhood

 

When you bend, balance.  When you balance, be a crane.   Be lost 
in calm.    Be a flamingo, pink and steady, on one skinny.  Be pink  
be turquoise be new Idaho red.    Dance the grind of bone on bone   
wishbone wish.    The hiss of crunch.  The strain of slow and swell.   
The weight of years; count them in golden joinery.    Balance.   
This in between time this between now and forever gone time this 
you don’t own me time this surrender and fall    open.  At least try  

 

 

 

 

Ablutions

 
I have not had a shower for nine months
I have washed – but half-heartedly and hardly refreshed
the carers use one bowl for the top of my body
another for the bottom half
my hair is scrubbed in the sink, shampoo everywhere
my toenails are too long, health and safety prevent them being cut
 
Back in hospital, hygiene is reduced to wet wipes and
all too often – miserably – dry wipes
the night nurse loses my flannel
the day shift commandeers my comb
 
At home again, my evolving recovery still
involves bowls and other people
but gradually I start to move
I go upstairs to sleep at night
I do not need the walking frame all the time
and the morning comes when
I am in the shower by myself
 
I weep, laugh, keep looking up to see where
the glorious water is coming from
I lather, shampoo, exfoliate, rinse
I am – independently – clean, shining, polished
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

Surge

Benissa, Spain, April 2020
 
Alone at my window, I stare out at the sea
beyond my garden walls and the vacant street.
 
I pass through the front gate only to walk my dog
the few blocks allowed in our neighborhood.
 
Guardia Civil patrol in their green and white cars
on the lookout for anyone wandering beyond the boundary:
 
lovers en route to a rendezvous or teenagers slipping off
for a secret dip in the sea—all forbidden now. 
 
But the seagulls, free to come and go, fly further
inland every day—the beaches deserted, nothing
 
left to scavenge there—circling over our shuttered
homes, their shrieks shatter the silence.
 
****
 
The virus, airborne, alien, spreads its tentacles,
infiltrates its host, replicates, decimates. 
 
I rarely leave the house now—afraid
for friends and family—COVID surging in America
 
while here in Spain, bodies pile up in hospitals,
ice skating rinks converted to makeshift morgues.
 
Refrigerated trucks hold the overflow of corpses,
motors idling in hospital loading docks. 
 
Drive-through funerals—a hearse
rolls up, the priest repeats his prayers again,
 
sprinkling holy water
through the rear door onto the casket. 
 
****
 
Alone at my window, I watch the sea change
from azure to steely grey. Clouds blow in,
 
wind carries the sound of surging surf breaking
on the beach below. Along the horizon, 
 
a single cargo ship inches its way south,
moving toward Gibraltar.

 

 

 

 

The Night Before

 
In Morocco, a young woman lies dying
In a hospital room in ancient Fez.
Night is falling.
The muezzin has called all souls to Allah one last time.
This daughter need not worry about how to trick her body
Into sleep.
She already slumbers, lulled in the cocoon of a coma,
Serenaded by the prayer that floats in her window.
The same holy words whispered into her ear
When she was born.
Maybe she also hears, dimly
In the far reaches of her brain
The gentle rainfall of her parents’ weeping.
And the beeping of her monitor
Faithfully measuring her heart and her breath.
 
Outside, on the warm green lawn of the hospital grounds
Her relatives sleep.
Aunties and uncles and all of her cousins
Travelled in a caravan of cars 
From their village in the mountains
And from their towns – Meknes and Agadir.
They took urgent flights from Montreal 
To be together
Of course.
To witness and hold each other
As hearts break.
 
Across the Atlantic in Halifax 
A doctor with a needle helps a sick man
Draw his last breath
Alone
Except for his wife
Who sits, stricken, at the side of the bed.
She is the only person
Her husband has permitted
To watch him take his leave,
Because dying is private.
 
In another house
His sister stands behind closed doors
Waiting for news of an ending.
A text likely, or an email.
She remembers the beginning,
Riding behind her brother on his bike
Her little girl pigtails flying
Hanging on to his thin body,
Feeling his muscles tense and relax
As he worked the pedals.
 
Now, as the sun is setting
She stands at the window
And dreams of sleeping 
On a soft patch of grass
In the arms of a cousin.
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

Old Lovers

Translated by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky
 
 
In the morning when you fall asleep on my arm
I lie there smiling softly
and in the mirror before me
gaze at two silhouettes… Old Lovers
(a memory of younger years—a museum in Berlin
where Otto Dix was appreciated
with curiosity, happiness, and humor).
 
It’s a paradoxical gift—at forty
or at twenty—an idiotic dream
to answer hello to the tempter’s
hello—the painted snake’s;
the ancient fruit of sweet exhaustion,
poisons of disgust, boredom,
squeezed by a hesitant hand… 
What despair!
It stays with me—
like youth, like fear, like a testament.  
 
O Lord, the steps from the elevator
and the doorbell are terrifying—
a criminal death! (And no grace
lies dormant in the ax or revolver).
Though the will has long been on paper,
no one wants to die—
raging pallid sex
like a moth in a dark closet.
 
And these girls from commercial niches,
these boys with knives in their pockets,
condoms and dollars in cahoots—
I think they are more frightening than…
Yet, what do I know about their tenderness
 
and passion?…
 
Is it really no greater
than just another museum reproduction?

 

 

 

 

Pri Mraku1

Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
 
 
Jesus Maria,”2 I hear his voice
in the smoky gostilna3
Worlds have separated
and we are in the vortex of light
discos for the old, lonely, left to chance
Worlds have multiplied
in convex mirrors
of a schizophrenic reason which crawls
in an ideology that has gone astray
more is less, less is more
rot of new cars slides,
girls dressed in black,
young men with ponytails dyed blond,
Light slides into uncertainty
Balkans is here, the Balkan is far away
A hypocrite transforms into a milky light
on the crossroads of Europe with different histories
My story, your story, their story
Our Father, who art in dreams of boiling thoughts
in the mystery of the mundane
where you’re served twenty types of cheese on a tray
and the astonishment of that material base opiates
yearning for celestial visions
That virtual reality is a mix
of feelings that it’s intangible
by comets, tailed comets, a dragon that
watches over mysterious secrets of the earth and that bridge4
Abducted sediments, creaking of wheels
zebras, crossings, colonnades
Drainage systems 
Flourishing real estate
Wealth of attempts
“In chocolate there is truth,”
he adds

 

1. Author’s note: “Pri Mraku” [At Mrak’s] is an old hotel and restaurant in downtown Ljubljana. The owner of the gostilna (inn), Mrak was the father of Ivan Mrak (1906-1986), a Slovenian playwright. Mrak was an eccentric, and he lived in the gostilna till his death. (Thanks to Darja Pavlič for this information.)
 
2. Author’s note: The phrase is common in Catholic parts of former Yugoslavia and not the Ortodox ones, and Djurić was astonished to hear it after some period of time.
 
3. Author’s note: Slovenian word for “inn.”
 
4. Author’s note: Reference to the dragons on the Triple Bridge (in Slovenian—Tromostovje) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, designed by the architect, Jože Plečnik (1872-1957).

 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

River Eden – Lady’s Walk

 
i
 
river tears out pasture landsmell of fresh earth 
                    
no shoreno wath
 
gulls and oystercatchers cry the sea                     
 
 
molten river is automatic canvas
 
 
Agar’s poured paintings
   
stipple mountain ridges
 
or smooth as tooled leather in a brass frame
 
ii
 
losing my wayon the lower pathslips and streams  
 
you said it was too difficult 
  
not kept closeas the ladies Musgrave were
 
   
  spare spumesoubrettemy soubriquet 
 
 
mallardsrushed downstreamside swerve
 
to the reedsfor further discussion
 
 
freight train on the horizonwhat has fuelled uswhat will 
 
fuel us betterwhere is that dying line of elms 
 
 
iii
 
 
flotsam in the willow brancheswhite plastic skirtsplit on a 
 
 
twiga cloak for Hallowe’enor grass festoons
 
 
animated vegetation 
 
      
twists and sends out
 
   
tendrilseach clusterdiffers
 
            
poking upsnail with many antennae
 
 
downward molewith extra claws
 
 
mud and wattle creatures
         
on strike against the flow
 
 
iv
 
 
age 14 she writes: ‘I cannot go with the tide.  I cannot go with the tied.’
 
 
what protection is there on the lady’s walk 
 
 
your carriage awaits madam
 
 
Langwathy to Edenhall
Cumbria

 

 

 

 

Luminosities

 
i. Harvard College Observatory, 1912
 
Hunched over a wooden frame
computing specks on a photographic plate 
sits Henrietta Swan Leavitt,
Radcliffe graduate,
sheathed in silence, growing deaf 
counting stars
for thirty cents an hour.
 
Her desk light burns into the night 
till “Leavitt’s Law” climbs
the cosmic distance ladder
reveals the measure of the universe –
“The period-luminosity relationship.”
 
In those days men got BAs,
and she, an equivalency certificate,
and after death, a crater on the moon.
 
 
ii. Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge, 1967
 
Jocelyn Bell, young physics student,
spends two years building a radio telescope,
hauls bundles of cables, plugs, connectors,
slogs through wet grass, hail, hot sun.
When it’s done she’ll boast:
“I could swing a sledgehammer!”
 
She runs the telescope, hunts quasars, 
deciphers reams of chart paper every day.
 
Once, just before lunch, she finds
an unclassifiable squiggle.
“Interference,” insists Tony Hewish, her professor.
 
She persists, finds another and another, 
crawls in wet grass again to slow
the “pulse, pulse, pulse” on the chart’s
records a radio flash, a new kind of star.
 
Pulsars! Nobel worthy gold! 
 
He got the Prize
with just a nod 
in her direction.
“I barely rated as a scientist.” 
 

 
iii.  Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, 2022
 
Maya, my granddaughter
tells me the universe is expanding, dark energy 
grows as the universe grows, billions 
of stars, thousands of galaxies move 
away from each other.
 
A mysterious cosmic dance.
She tells me we know so much more
because of disregarded women.
She wants to be part of the story,
told her way. 
Told. Recorded. Acknowledged.
When she whispers the word
“astrophysicist” her eyes shine.
 
Sixteen years ago I watched her
tumble from the womb.
First breath, first shock of air
in the hushed delivery room.
I heard her newborn heart
cry out in awe. 
  
My brilliant
supernova
streaming light.
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

I think of Ritsos playing piano on Raven Street as I teach Poe 

 
Take me away from Ritsos, my raven poet.
Away from 39. Raven Street, his street— 
pitch black and glistening
like ravens’ wings—my neighborhood.
The poet playing piano
my father carrying me on his shoulders
to hear the trills through the windows.
He was silenced, forced into exile.
Through my adolescence ravens came and went. 
Nothing to worry about.  
Absence, loss.
How did I confront?
I was only a child.
The virus of dissent was under control.
 
When she lay sick in the other room
a raven flew into Poe’ s poem. 
He was her enigma, haunted and eerie     
she was his setting—his opium.
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore’ plagued the performance.        
The narrative of illness disappeared. 
A raven, a poet, a virus—
I teach my students, 
write words on the poets’ histories.
 
Air, more air.
 
The rest is history.
Are you listening?
Are you listening?
I need air.
My lungs’ heart is infected.
Let’s migrate to the North.
 
No inconvenience.
 
The pine forest, the stream—
our suburban complacency.
This is our nest of meditation.
We call it home.
When we float two together
we hear the magpie song. 
Our words slowly disappear here, dear,
birds take their place 
making outward sounds of grievance.
 
No inconvenience.
We are all connected.
Who planted these here?
The paper masks? 
The sterile gloves? 
The sanitizer sprays? 
The blood stains? 
Darling, darling we are fooling ourselves,
you utter, ready to set off again.

 

 

 

 

Relinquished

U.S. Consulate, Melbourne, 2020
 
 
At the appointed time, you remove
your shoes and tuck your pride and follow
the bulging guard inside. Among the assembled
exiles and petitioners,
you find your row and wait your turn
until at last it comes:
number seventy-six, window two.
You swear you’re free
of any duress. And when the cashier asks
for two thousand
three hundred and fifty U.S. dollars, the price
of freedom at today’s rate of exchange,
you swear again.
 
You sit and wait.
You are called a second time,
and at window one you swear
an oath to an officer, uniformed and shielded
from you by patriot glass;
you make the alien’s promise: I hereby absolutely renounce all allegiance
and fidelity thereunto and pertaining.
And why is it you’re leaving?
You do not say the words you feel.
Instead, you offer words you’ve rehearsed for days.
Love, which abandoned me there, found me here.
Here, I’ve lived forty years.
Here, I birthed a fine boy; I found a good man.
Here, I was inspired and have inspired,
And here I plan to die.
 
 
The officer nods
and takes your passport from you.
Next. You find your shoes
 
and find the exit.
In Fawkner Park the arms of the white eucalypts are bare,
and the morning air carries no scent
of your childhood,
spent on a screened-in porch where Mama
kept you safe from Jersey oaks and elms
and every dangerous thing
that bit and flew.
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

My Immigrant Story

 
We were on the boat, steerage passage to America.
Pitching, rolling, now sea, now sky,
moldy bread, tainted water,
a river of stinking muck down below,
the screams of my children as it slid over them.
 
Up on deck was different, not better.
Spray in the air too thick to breathe,
the deck too slimed with wet to risk moving.
I grabbed a rail and held on tight
not to be swept into the sea,
me and the little ones clutching my skirts,
one on each side,
and the baby,
the baby,
her tiny red face puckered in rage,
wild for the milk she could barely squeeze out.
 
And then, 
here he came, 
striding down the deck
in a black top hat smashed down on his skull
and a black black tailcoat
whipping out behind him.
He came over to me as I clung to the rail
and straining against the shriek of the wind
put close to my ear the following:
You are alone on this ship? No man?
I shook my head 
as a round freckled woman came up by his side
and looked long and hard at the babe in my arms
and spoke low to her man, for he was her man.
 
And he turned to me with a confident smile
and held out his hand and there was a purse,
a drawstring purse, heavy it hung.
And he said
Take it.
 
I stared at him
For what, I said, 
and he answered me
For the child in your arms.
You are alone with three little ones.
Alone, on your way to an unknown land.
It will be hard for you 
to manage with three,
less hard with two,
and less hard still 
with two and with money.
Take it, he said.
Give me that child.
It is so young, you barely know it.
You will marry again, you will have other babes.
 
I remember
the children at my skirts 
made no sound.
I remember
the round woman nodding 
as she stretched out her arms.
I remember
the heavy swing of that purse.
 
I don’t remember what I said.
I don’t remember what I did.
But I must have said no.
Must have said no.
Because now here you are, 
child of the child of the child of that child,
listening to my words,
writing them down –
my immigrant story.

 

 

 

 

 

The best way to eat a fig—

 
even better than plucking one ripe
from a branch
that reaches over a sandy road
by the sea,
Skiathos,
August,
dusk—
is to split one in two,
place a dollop of creamy cheese—
or drained whipped cream,
or thick, sweet yogurt—
on each succulent, seedy half,
then drizzle with honey,
Acacia,
if you can find it,
but don’t deprive yourself
of what is excellent,
because you can’t have
what is perfect.
 
Out of season,
out of ripe-fig-luck,
the way with figs is preserves—
mixed with Balsamic,
dark or light,
and cooked down
to a dense, sweet syrup;
serve with rosemary chicken
or a thick chop.
 
I came late
to an appreciation for
the authority of figs
and fig leaves, faith,
temptations
of fruit, and the art 
 
of substitutions.
When Eve, in Eden,
went out of her way
for an apple, got caught
up in all that tempting mess—
seduction, curiosity
satisfied,
sin—
she must have regretted
passing up the lush, plentiful figs
that wouldn’t last past
their brief ripening—
and were not forbidden.  
 
Regardless of season
or circumstance,
you can take a handful of dried figs—
Turkish, Moroccan,  Greek;
Mission, Kadota, Celeste—
barely cover them with water,
add honey—Sunflower
the choice here,
preferably Tuscan—
simmer ‘til figs are plump and soft,
and, still warm, pour over them
a spoonful of heavy cream.
Close your eyes in transport
to a lover’s bed
with all the supple promises of youth
and a buoyant gratitude
so wild, so extravagant,
neither fig nor you nor love
can remain tethered
entirely
to this earth.
 

 

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Breathe with conviction.
This is all you have.
This moment.
You’ve had others.
You may have more,
 
but this very moment
is the sum and total
of your guarantee.
Be inhabited by air,
say, Welcome to 
 
my lungs, Air, to my body. 
Inhabit me!
Is anyone but a mystic
content solely with air
in any moment,
 
no matter how still
and otherwise unoccupied?
I don’t say be satisfied
only with air—
there’s so much more—
 
but do be content with it
foremost and first.
In this moment, for instance,
as I welcome air
I also welcome the aroma
 
of French roast coffee,
its body, its heat,
coolness of pen,
smoothness of paper,
new snow clinging to trees, 
 
memory of
last night’s dream,
and moment following
moment
following moment
 
to all that is.
 

 


Women of Ghana, miniature pencil paintings with ink by Helen Bar-Lev

 

 

Toko Shinoda’s life (March 28, 1913 - March 1, 2021) is a story of determination and daring to be different. When Toko grew up in Japan a century ago, girls were expected to marry and take care of the home. Instead, Toko made art her life. She rebelled against the strict rules of the traditional Japanese calligraphy her father insisted she study. Using the traditional brush and black ink she learned to write with as a child, she created images from her heart. An Amazon review: This may have been written for children but it is a fascinating introduction to an Oriental art form. The story of Toko is charmingly interwoven with calligraphy and art pieces, each accompanied by a spare and elegant explanation. A delightful and informative book. Available from Amazon.

Bios

EDITORS

Pit Pinegar is the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Physics of Transmigration. She taught creative writing to gifted high school students at a Hartford, CT magnet arts school and at the Center for Creative Youth at Wesleyan University for nearly two decades. A multi-genre writer, she is currently at work on memoirs and a fourth collection of poetry.

Cynthia Hogue’s most recent collections are Revenance, listed as one of the 2014 “Standout” books by the Academy of American Poets, and In June the Labyrinth (2017). Her tenth collection, instead, it is dark, came out from Red Hen Press in June of 2023. Her third book-length translation (with Sylvain Gallais) is Nicole Brossard’s Distantly (Omnidawn 2022). Her Covid chapbook is entitled Contain (Tram Editions 2022). Among her honors are a Fulbright Fellowship to Iceland, two NEA Fellowships, and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets (2013). She served as Guest Editor for Poem-a-Day for September (2022), sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Hogue was the inaugural Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She lives in Tucson. Go to ArtsMart to order both her most recent book of poems and her latest translated work.


POETS

Hanne Bramness is an award-winning Norwegian poet, editor and translator. Her latest collection, Snø på museum, appeared in 2021. Translations of her poetry books into English have been published by Shearsman Press, most recently Weight of Light, translated by Frances Presley. Anna Reckin’s translation of Bramness's Water Glass sequence, to be included in a forthcoming New Selected poems, appeared in Long Poem Magazine 26: http://longpoemmagazine.org.uk/poems/from-the-water-glass/. www.annareckin.com

Born in Antigua, West Indies, Althea Romeo Mark is an educator and internationally published writer who grew up in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. She has lived and taught in the U.S.A., Liberia (West Africa), the United Kingdom, and Switzerland since 1991. A dual American and Swiss citizen, she writes short stories and personal essays in addition to poetry.

Margo Berdeshevsky, NYC born, writes in Paris. Her books: “Kneel Said the Night (a hybrid book in half-notes,)” /Sundress- Publications. “Before The Drought,” /Glass-Lyre-Press/finalist-National-Poetry-Series. Forthcoming: “It Is Still Beautiful To Hear The Heart Beat,”/Salmon-Poetry. Author as well of: “Between Soul & Stone” and “But a Passage in Wilderness”/Sheep-Meadow-Press, and “Beautiful Soon Enough,”/FC2. http://margoberdeshevsky.com  

Aliki Barnstone is a writer and visual artist. The most recent of her nine books of poetry is Eva: Voices of an Imaginary Poet (Athens, Vakxikon, 2023)a bilingual edition, translated into Greek by Liana Sakelliou. She is currently on her second Fulbright Fellowship in Greece for which she is teaching at the University of Athens and writing poems and flashes about the Greek military junta (1967-1974). She is Professor of English at the University of Missouri and served as poet laureate of Missouri from 2016-2019.



Janice Greene is a graduate of the University of Toronto School of Continuing Education Creative Writing Program. She was a professional Canadian actress for many years and is also a Registered Massage Therapist.



Frances Owen lives in Salisbury, England. She writes about the places she has lived in Africa, health issues, and inequality. Developing her first poetry pamphlet, and published in Dreich, Lighthouse and the Ekphrastic Review, she workshops her poetry regularly and facilitates community-based Writing for Wellbeing Groups.

Sharon Alexander moved from California to Spain, January 2020. Six of her poems are featured in Aeolian Harp anthology, 2022. Sharon is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two chapbooks: INSTRUCTIONS IN MY ABSENCE, first place winner Palettes & Quills Contest; and VOODOO TROMBONE, Finishing Line Press, 2014. www.sharonalexanderpoetry.com  

After retiring from a career managing community agencies in Toronto, Janis Galway is excited to have time to write. She is working on her first novel, based on historical events in her family. This poem, the first she has shared publicly, is inspired by two recent deaths amongst friends. https://www.linkedin.com/in/janisgalway/   

Natalka Bilotserkivets is a Kyiv-based, internationally translated, award-winning author of six books of poetry.  Her volume of selected poems, Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow, translated by Kinsella and Orlowsky (2021) was a finalist for the 2022 Griffin International Poetry Prize and winner of the 2020-2021 American Association for Ukrainian Studies Translation Prize.  Ali Kinsella has been translating from Ukrainian for ten years.  Published works include essays, poetry, monographs, and subtitles to various films.  She won the 2019 Kovaliv Fund Prize for her translation of Taras Prokhasko’s Anna’s Other Days.  A former Peace Corps volunteer, Ali lived in both western and central Ukraine for nearly five years.  Dzvinia Orlowsky’s most recent poetry collection, Bad Harvest, was a 2019 Massachusetts Book Awards “Must Read” in Poetry. Her co-translations from the Ukrainian of Halyna Kruk’s poetry (with Ali Kinsella) is forthcoming from Lost Horse Press (2024). Her new poetry collection, Those Absences Now Closest, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press (2024).

Dubravka Djurić, a poet, critic, and Professor in Belgrade, Serbia, has published six poetry collections, critical books; co-edited journals (ProFemina) anthologies (Impossible, and Cat Painters). Coming out in fall 2023 is The Politics of Hope (After the War): Selected and New Poems (Transl. by Biljana D. Obradović; Roof Books). Author of a collection of poems,  Little Disruptions, WordTech Editions, 2022. Biljana D. Obradović, a Serbian-American poet, translator, and critic, has published four collections of poems, most recently Little Disruptions (Word Tech, 2022) and Incognito (WordTech, 2017). With Dubravka Djurić, she co-edited Cat Painter: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry (Dialogos Press, 2016). She is a professor of English at Xavier University in New Orleans.

Frances Presley was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1952.  She lives in London.  Publications include Halse for Hazel (2014) and Sallow (2016) on trees and their languages; Ada Unseen (2019) on Ada Lovelace, mathematician and computer visionary; and Collected Poems 1973-2020 published in two volumes by Shearsman in 2022. www.francespresley.co.uk

Wendy Dickstein was born in the US, in New Haven, Connecticut, grew up in Australia and lived in England and India, before finding her true home in Jerusalem. She has won prizes in poetry and fiction, has published six books, and is currently working on a second poetry collection. 


[Credit: Nikos Pavlou]
A poet, translator, critic, editor and professor of English from Athens, Greece, Liana Sakelliou is the author of twenty-six books, most recently Murmullo (Selected Poems, Padilla Libros 2023), and Portrait Before Dark (trans. Aliki Barnstone, St. Julian Press, 2022). Her poems have been translated into ten languages, and widely anthologized.

Born in New Jersey, Barbara Kamler came to Australia in 1972 and developed a distinguished academic career over the next forty years.  Her latest book, Love, regardless (Hybrid Press, 2022) offers poignant prose poems of long love, as lived by fourteen couples—across ages, sexualities, and cultures. www.barbarakamler.com

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Ann Bar-Dov has lived in Israel since 1976 and in the Galilee since 1983.  After 38 years teaching (kindergarten, yoga, Public Health), she has finally retired and is enjoying spending real time writing poems and short stories in both Hebrew and English.


ILLUSTRATOR

Helen Bar-Lev was born in New York in 1942.  She holds a B.A. in Anthropology, has lived in Israel for 50 years and has had over 100 exhibitions of her landscape paintings, 34 of which were one-woman shows.  Her poems and artwork have appeared in numerous online and print anthologies.  She has published eight poetry collections illustrated with her own work.  She is the Amy Kitchener senior poet laureate and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2013 and is the Israeli representative for Imagine & Poesia.  Helen is the recipient of the Homer European Medal for Poetry and Art.  She is the winner of the Colori dell'Anima" Award 10th Edition for her poetic collection (Sanremo, Italy).  She also has held these positions:Assistant President of Voices Israel, and Chief Editor of its Annual Anthology. www.helenbarlev.com. Go to ArtsMart to purchase her work.

8 Comments

  1. Congratulations on an awesome collection of poems, all of which sing in unique voices yet also form a piece.

  2. Tree Time is a gorgeous, powerful and compelling poem. I would love reproduce it in my online magazine of the environment, Canary, this winter. canarylitmag.org May I have permission?

  3. So very gratified and proud to be one among this powerful chorus of voices. Each individual and yet woven into a whole, here…And oh my goodness, Helen Bar-Lev’s accompanying paintings are stunning.

  4. What rich experiences in resounding voices inhabit these poems so that we can know beyond our own rich experiences!

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